Thursday, April 30, 2009

Theme Thursday - Water

Most Septembers, we fly to England and spend some time with family. Then we rent a narrowboat and meander for a week or two, usually on the Kennet and Avon Canal, but there are about 2,000 miles of navigable canal in England, so there's no shortage of places to go. At the

four miles per hour speed limit set by British Waterways, you could sail for months before you ran out of canal.

The photo I've posted above was taken on the Kennet and Avon Canal. You will note that the water is glassy. It is usually that way. There is no current, except on the occasional small stretch where the canal joins up with the river (either the Kennet or the Avon, on this particular canal). The water isn't very deep, so even if someone fell overboard, they could probably save themselves by standing up. The wildlife that frequents the river is annoying at times, but not generally dangerous.

So a canal holiday is a slow-moving, relaxed affair. I get my exercise by climbing out of the boat at each lock and opening/closing/opening/closing the sluices and the gates. If I'm in the mood for a walk, I walk up the tow path to the next lock and meet my husband there. (I mentioned a 4 mph speed limit, but in practice the boats usually do 3 mph - walking speed).

Ah, but my husband, Robin, has an ambition. He wants to do what is known as the London Loop, a route that involves several canals and also a stint on the River Thames. That trip is scheduled for a year or two down the road, so last year, he decided that instead of boating on the canal, we should check out the Thames - just to get a feel for the difference between canal and river sailing. "Sure", I said. It sounded like a good idea. We picked up our boat (the Lord of Caversham) in Reading, and we sailed to Oxford. There had been a lot of flooding recently, all over England, and there was quite a strong current on the Thames.

The day after we started, we met some people coming the other way. They said that the Thames had been closed to navigation for a couple of weeks and had only been re-opened the day before we set out (Umm...Why didn't anybody mention that when we went to pick the boat up?). A lot of boats had been stranded at Oxford for a week or more. Our informants advised us not to try to go beyond Oxford, because we might not be able to get turned around to come back to Reading. Fortunately, Oxford was our outer destination, so that was okay.

Fast forward. We'd visited Oxford (awesome, but not about water, really, except there are a lot of rowers and scullers, including one couple who were rowing their rowboat stern-first, which was absolutely fascinating) and we were sailing back to Reading.

We pulled over to the public mooring at Abingdon, and I jumped ashore, carrying the line. Instead of a bollard for tying up, there was an iron ring, through which I feebly attempted to thread the rope (I heard later that that's not really how it's done, but I didn't know at the time). I fumbled the attempt, and the rope started whipping back toward the river at an alarming speed. I didn't dare grab the rope at the ring, because I could lose some fingers that way. While I struggled to get hold of the squirming rope, it somehow jammed under the ring. Well, at least it had stopped whipping around. I was momentarily relieved. Then I heard Robin calling to me from the boat. I looked up. His eyes were very large. The boat was attached to the other end of the rope, you see, and the current was trying to carry the boat away while the very strong rope and the even stronger iron ring were thwarting its attempts, so to speak.

What Robin was saying was something like "The boat is going to capsize if you don't get that rope loose." Oh, hell. Now what?

Just then, a man appeared beside me. "Throw me a knife!" he yelled, and Robin obliged, raiding the galley. Within seconds, a prodigious butcher knife came whistling through the air and landed point-down in the grass. Our rescuer grabbed the knife, raised it, then smashed it down on the rope like Paul Bunyan felling a tree. He severed the line in one blow. It jumped into the air, then disappeared into the water. Then there was a whirring noise and a snap. The line had gone straight for the stern and got itself tangled in the propeller, which promptly ate it. That was just as well. It (really) shouldn't have been long enough to reach the prop. Robin rescued what remained of it, re-braided the end, and our little adventure was over. I don't remember getting back aboard. The only note I put in Turtle Afloat that night was this one, which concerned our having lost all ability to steer as we were being swept toward a weir. Somehow, I could only process one near-disaster per day, so I made light of the rope incident.

This morning, we sailed to Abingdon, where we had a mechanical breakdown just above the Abingdon Lock. The throttle cable broke, so we could not manouever. That was interesting. The lock keeper helped us get through the lock and tie up, and we waited for the mechanic to arrive from the Reading boatyard. He fixed us up, sent us on our way, and we pulled in at the public mooring in Abingdon, where I tried to sink us (not really, but I nearly did it anyway). We are now settled in for the night. Our plan is to get back to Reading, then go up the Kennet & Avon Canal for a couple of days - because we both like the canal Much Better.


John Hayes said...

Those canal boating vacations sound about perfect (other than the air travel involved in getting to them), & the mooring story was hilariously well-told.

Lovely music selection for the morning, too.

Debbie said...

You all have the best adventures! Great story.
Me? I just stay home and do mostly the same thing day in and day out:)

Brian Miller said...

fun adventures...would love a vacation on the canal... nice pic on the music to get us started today.

Poetikat said...

Love the Handel for starters,and can't help but be reminded of Morse books with canals and Oxford. I think your husband's got it right - sounds like a brilliant trip (the Loop) to me. (Also puts me in mind of Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men In a Boat". Very pleasant post.


P.S. Thank you very much for your comment. I am delighted you consider yourself a "fan".

Wings said...

Wow - Very cool and sounds fun!

reyjr said...

Bad luck!

Hey! I've been to Reading, England! :D

Sandra Leigh said...

John, I try not to think about the air travel. It's a nine-hour flight from Vancouver to London, by which time we are definitely ready for a vacation.

Yes, Debbie, but what you do every day keeps the rest of us in stitches, Thank you.

Brian, sailing the canals is absolutely the best way to see Britain.

Kat, we moored in Oxford just below the police station that was used in the Morse series. I have trod the steps that Morse trod. Hee.

I auditioned several versions of the Water Music. Most of them seemed to be in an awful hurry, which is wrong, just wrong, I say. That's why I chose the baroque trumpet version. I'm glad you liked it.

The Silver Fox said...

This being Theme Thursday, I've already commented elsewhere that I'm more of a water-watcher than a swimmer. Having read this post, I think I'll even steer clear of boats for a while!

Sandra Leigh said...

Good morning Wings and reyjr. It was a cool trip, but the canals are cooler, because I prefer my holiday without the danger element.

Sandra Leigh said...

Nah, Silver Fox. Just stick to the canals. They're lovely and peaceful.

Cuppa Jo said...

Wow. I know nothing about boating so I would have either lost a hand or sunk the boat. I've been interested though in canal boating since I saw that episode of Inspector Morse where he's in the hospital and he starts working on an old case from the 1800s. That was neat.

Ah, the things that get our minds going.

Dakota Bear said...

Thank you for taking us on the canal and river adventures. I've done a couple of river trips and found them to be so relaxing and intimate with the towns and hamlets along the way.

Very much appreciated the music.

tut-tut said...

I've always wanted to rent a boat and poke around! Lucky you. Have you done this in France, too?

Ronda Laveen said...

Gosh, and I thought you weren't having any fun. Life is always an adventure isn't it?

Tom said...

what an adventure. And have always liked the Water music... good selection

Sandra Leigh said...

Jo, I'd have sunk the boat too, if not for the intervention of Robin and the Masked Man (whoever he was).

Dakota Bear, I think I'll stick to the canals and leave the rivers to the folks with better boating skills than mine!

tut-tut - no, we haven't boated in France, but I would like to. I've driven through France and I loved it.

Ronda and Tom - yes, it's one adventure after another. I'm a lucky lady.

kimmirich said...

Wonderful post on your adventures!

Kris said...

I have always wanted to sail down the Rhine or the Danube.

Sandra Leigh said...

Thank you, Kimmi. It was fun, when it wasn't scary.

Kris, I think I'll stick with seeing them from the bank, if I ever get over that way. Can you walk the length of the Danube?

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